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The

T Rod of
o Asclepiu
us : a sym
mbol for medicine
m

The Rood of Asclepius (also known as a Asklepios or Aessculapius)) is an anccient


Greek symbol
s asssociated with
w astrollogy and healing
h th
he sick withh medicin
ne. It
consistss of a serp
pent entwinned aroun o Apollo, was
nd a staff. Asclepiuss, the son of
practitiioner of medicine
m i ancientt Greek mythology
in m y. He was instructed in
medicinne by th he centau ur Chiron also connected
c to the constellaation
Ophiucchus.

The Rood of Ascllepius sym mbolizes th he healingg arts by combiningg the serp pent,
which in
i sheddin ng its skin is a symb bol of rebirth and feertility, wiith the staaff, a
symboll of authorrity, befittting the good of Medicine. The snake wrappped aroundd the
staff is widely
w claim
med to be a species of rat snake, Elaphe longgissima, alsso known as a the
Aesculap pian (Asclep
pian) snakee. It is nativve to southeeastern Euroope, Asia Minor,
M and some
s
central European spas regionss, apparenttly broughtt there by Romans foor their healing
propertiies. In zooto
omy and deermatologyy, skin is th he largest organ of thee integumenntary
system made
m up of multiple laayers of epitthelial tissu
ues that guaard underlyiing muscless and
organs. ...
.

The rod of Asclepiu us (⚕; somettimes also sp pelled Askleepios or Aessculapius), also
a known as
the askleepian, is an ancient sym mbol associaated with asstrology, thee Greek god d Asclepius, and
with med dicine and healing.
h It consists
c of a serpent enttwined arouund a staff. The name ofo
the symb bol derives from
f its earrly and wideespread assoociation witth Asclepiuss, the son off
Apollo, who
w was a practitioner
p r of medicine in ancientt Greek mytthology. Hiss attributes,, the
snake annd the staff, sometimes depicted seeparately in antiquity, are a combineed in this
symbol. The Rod off Asclepius also a represeents the constellation Ophiuchus
O (oor Ophiuchus
Serpentaarius), consiidered by soome to be th he thirteenth sign of thee sidereal zoodiac.
Hippocrrates himselff was a worrshipper of Asclepius.
A
Symbolism

The serpent and the staff appear to have been separate symbols that were combined at
some point in the development of the Asclepian cult. The significance of the serpent has
been interpreted in many ways; sometimes the shedding of skin and renewal is emphasized
as symbolizing rejuvenation , while other assessments center on the serpent as a symbol
that unites and expresses the dual nature of the work of the physician, who deals with life
and death, sickness and health.[ The ambiguity of the serpent as a symbol, and the
contradictions it is thought to represent, reflect the ambiguity of the use of drugs, which
can help or harm, as reflected in the meaning of the term pharmakon, which meant "drug",
"medicine" and "poison" in ancient Greek[; we know that today antidotes and vaccines are
often compounded from precisely the thing that caused the poisoning or illness. Products
deriving from the bodies of snakes were known to have medicinal properties in ancient
times, and in ancient Greece, at least some were aware that snake venom that might be
fatal if it entered the bloodstream could often be imbibed. Snake venom appears to have
been 'prescribed' in some cases as a form of therapy.

The staff has also been variously interpreted. One view is that it, like the serpent,
"conveyed notions of resurrection and healing", while another (not necessarily
incompatible) is that the staff was a walking stick associated with itinerant physicians.
Cornutus, a philosopher probably active in the first century CE, in the Theologiae Graecae
Compendium (Ch. 33) offers a view of the significance of both snake and staff that is worth
quoting at length:

“ Asclepius derived his name from healing soothingly and from deferring the
withering that comes with death. For this reason, therefore, they give him a
serpent as an attribute, indicating that those who avail themselves of medical
science undergo a process similar to the serpent in that they, as it were, grow
young again after illnesses and slough off old age; also because the serpent is a sign
of attention, much of which is required in medical treatments. The staff also seems
to be a symbol of some similar thing. For by means of this it is set before our
minds that unless we are supported by such inventions as these, in so far as falling
continually into sickness is concerned, stumbling along we would fall even sooner
than necessary. ”
—Asclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, Baltimore, 1945

History of Asclepius and His Rod

The rod of Asclepius is an ancient Greek symbol of a staff with a snake twined around it. In
Greek mythology, Asclepius (also spelled Asklepios) was the son of Apollo and a
practitioner of medicine. Hippocrates was a devoted follower of the god Asclepius.

Asclepius was born of Apollo and a human female. Apollo learned that his beloved was
unfaithful to him and sent an arrow hurling through her heart. She told him as she lay
dying that he should have waited as she was pregnant with his son Asclepius. As she
burned on her funeral pyre, Apollo snatched the child out of her womb and took him to the
centaur Chiron who raised him with wisdom and the knowledge of medicine.

Asclepius was also taught magic (not the entertaining kind) and he learned to raise the
dead. Zeus considered this an offence to the natural order and struck Asclepius dead with a
thunder bolt. Asclepius was thus born in fire and died in fire. Zeus realized that Asclepius
had been important to humankind and placed him in the sky as the constellation
Ophiuchus (serpent-bearer).

One method of devotion and cure for the Greeks was to make a pilgrimage to one of the
temples dedicated to Asclepius. There they would sleep in the abaton building, hoping to be
visited by Asclepius in their dreams during the night. Upon waking they would tell the
priests of their dreams and the priests would prescribe a cure such as a visit to the baths or
to a gymnasium, or they would perform rituals to rid them of their illnesses.

Non-venomous snakes were found in abundance at the temples and in the abaton where the
worshippers slept. The snakes were considered to represent the god, and were fed by
devotees and priests.

After being healed, the devotees would often give a gift to the temple such as an animal
sacrifice or a tablet describing the illness and the cure. Another example was to offer a clay
representation of the healed body part. Many terra-cotta hands, feet, breasts, arms, legs,
etc., were found in excavations of the temples.

The snake symbol represents both death and life, and sometimes medicine can be both
harmful and healing. In ancient Greece, some were aware that snake venom that might be
fatal if it entered the bloodstream could often be swallowed without the same harmful
effects. Snake venom may have been one prescription at the time for a serious illness. The
sacred snake of Asclepius represented healing, renewal of youth and resurrection.

Astrological connection

The two symbols were also associated with astrology. Asclepius was so skilled in the
medical arts that he was reputed to have brought patients back from the dead. For this, he
was punished and placed in the heavens as the constellation Ophiuchus (meaning "serpent-
bearer"). This constellation lies between Sagittarius and Scorpius. In early Christianity, the
constellation Ophiuchus was associated with Saint Paul holding the Maltese Viper.
Confusion with the Caduceus

The Caduceus is often (incorrectly) used as a symbol for medicine or doctors, in place of
the Rod of Asclepius which is the usual symbol of the medical profession. A 1992 survey of
American health organisations found that 62% of professional associations used the staff of
Asclepius, whereas in commerical organisations, 76% used the caduceus.

Early confusion between the symbols almost certainly arose due to the links between
alchemy and Hermes, whose symbol is the caduceus. The alchemists adopted the caduceus
because Hermes, the God of Messengers, was also the patron lord of gamblers, thieves,
tricksters and alchemists. By the end of the 16th century, alchemy became widely
associated with medicine in some areas, leading to some use of the caduceus as a medical
symbol.[5] This article or section includes a list of works cited or a list of external links, but
its sources remain unclear because it lacks in-text citations. ... Hermes bearing the infant
Dionysus, by Praxiteles, found at the Heraion, Olympia, 1877 Hermes (Greek, , IPA: ), in
Greek mythology, is the Olympian god of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them,
of shepherds and cowherds, of orators and wit, of literature and poets, of athletics, of
weights and measures...

The main reason for the modern confusion over the symbols occured when the caduceus
was adopted by the Medical Department of the United States Army in 1902. This was
brought about by one Captain Reynolds, who after having the idea rejected several times
by the Surgeon General, persuaded the new incumbent (WH Forwood) to adopt it. The
mistake was noticed several years later by the librarian to the surgeon general, but was not
changed.[6] The United States Army is the largest branch of the armed forces of the United
States. ...

There was further confusion caused by the use of the caduceus as a printer's mark (as
Hermes was the god of eloquence and messengers), which appeared in many medical
textbooks as a printing mark, although subsequently mistaken for a medical symbol.
Caduceeus

The Rood of Ascleepius and the Caducceus Symb


bols

The snak
ke is seen in
n modern syymbols to reepresent heaaling and medicine.
m Th
hese symbolls are
derived from Greeek mythoology, with h an even earlier example
e in
n Mesopotaamia.

Both thee caduceus and the rood of Asclep pius are symmbols with snakes wraapped arouund a
wand, a rod or a staff.
s They both have their
t origin
ns in Greekk mythologyy, but with very
differentt meanings.. In spite of
o their difffering origin
ns, they have both com
me to repreesent
medicinee and healin
ng in the moodern worldd.

Meanin
ng of the Caduceus
C

The caduceus symb bol is somettimes confu


used with thhe rod of Asclepius.
A It is also a Greek
G
symbol, but does not have thee original mythic
m connnection with
h medicine, or healing.. The
symbol is
i composed d of a wand or staff witth two serpents entwin
ned around a pole, withh two
wings at the top.

Hermes,, the Greek


k god, and Mercury, the
t Roman n god both appear witth the cadu uceus
symbol. They are messengers
m t the gods who represent merchaants, commeerce, innovaation,
to
thieves and magic.. The caduuceus was their magiic wand wiith which they
t perforrmed
incantations.

The link duceus with medicine arose


k of the cad a aroun
nd the 7th century
c E. when Hermes
C.E
became associated with alchem my, Hermeticists, myssticism and the occult.. Otherwisee, the
caduceus of old reprresents com
mmerce and not medicinne.
The U.S.. Army Med dical Corpss Branch Plaque. The 1902
1 adoptiion of the caaduceus forr U.S.
Army medical
m offficer uniforrms erroneeously popuularized th
he symbol throughoutt the
medical field in the US.

The caduuceus is ofteen (incorrecctly) used ass a symbol for


f medicinne or doctors, in place of
o the
Rod of Asclepius
A which
w is thee usual symmbol of the medical prrofession. A 1992 surveey of
Americaan health orrganisationss found thatt 62% of proofessional associations
a used the staaff of
Asclepiu
us, whereas in commeriical organisations, 76% % used the caduceus.

Early coonfusion beetween the symbols almost certaainly arose due to thee links betw ween
alchemyy and Hermes, whose syymbol is the caduceus.. The alchem mists adoptted the caduuceus
because Hermes, th he God of Messengers
M s, was also the patron lord of gaamblers, thiieves,
tricksterrs and alchhemists. Byy the end of the 16tth century, alchemy became widely w
associateed with med dicine in soome areas, leading
l to some
s use off the caduceeus as a meedical
symbol. This articlee or section includes a list
l of workss cited or a list of exterrnal links, but its
sources remain unclear becau use it lackss in-text cittations. ... Hermes
H beaaring the in
nfant
Dionysus, by Praxitteles, found d at the Herraion, Olym mpia, 1877 Hermes
H (Grreek, , IPA: ), in
Greek mythology,
m is the Olymp pian god off boundaries and of thee travelers who w cross them,
t
of sheph herds and cowherds,
c o orators and
of a wit, off literature and poets,, of athleticcs, of
weights and
a measurres...

The maiin reason fo


or the modeern confusiion over thee symbols occured
o wheen the cadu uceus
was adoopted by th
he Medical Departmen nt of the Un nited Statess Army in 1902. Thiss was
brought about by one
o Captain n Reynolds, who after having the idea rejecteed several times t
by the Surgeon
S Geeneral, persuaded the new incum mbent (WH Forwood) to t adopt it.. The
mistake was noticed
d several years later byy the librariian to the su
urgeon geneeral, but waas not
changedd.

There was
w further confusion caused by the use of the caduceu us as a priinter's mark
k (as
Hermes was the god of eloqu uence and messengerss), which appeared
a in
n many meedical
textbook
ks as a printting mark, although
a subsequently mistaken foor a medicaal symbol.